Banned Books Week: Is Racism Packaged as Children's Literature Defensible?

"It's not racist! My mother says it!" objected an acquaintance when I suggested she not continue to use the phrase "that's white of you"*

Why is it that people assume things associated with childhood or their own loved ones are magically not racist simply by virtue of that association? When I saw Little Black Sambo on the banned book list, I winced. Because there's more than a small part of me that would like to see such minstrel-esque images of Black people erased from the culture. (And before someone dismisses this by telling me that he is Indian, "Sambo" and his ilk migrated to America and came to be representative of the enslaved and formerly enslaved population here, too.) Maybe the world wouldn't be any worse off without Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, all those mammy-figurines made into salt and pepper shakers, pickaninny dolls, the film Birth of a Nation...

Two parts of me are at war when I see these things: one part cultural theorist with a specialty in black and white race relations in the United States and one part white Mama Bear to two beautiful Black daughters. Seeing "them" (all Black children reflect my daughters to me now) portrayed with caricature thick-lipped grins, rolling white eyes in an unnaturally black face--unnuanced by the shades of gold and mahogany that make my babies so take-your-breath-away gorgeous--doesn't just turn my stomach; it makes tears spring to my eyes. I want to slay the dragon of racism for my girls. I want to make the history go away. I want never to have to explain slavery, Jim Crow, minstrelsy and blackface, lynching, disproportionate Black poverty, and perhaps least of all the sexual vulnerability of Black women throughout American history from the first woman whose baby was ruled to "follow her condition" of slavery, rather than his slave-master father's.

Read more here.